“Life sucks” Mahesh said kicking at a small stone and missing it.
“I thought you could only suck ice creams and golas” his little sister asked him curiously.
Mahesh didn’t deign to answer her and continued walking homewards. ‘I am really going to get it from Dad this time’ he thought worriedly. The first term examination results had just got out that day and Mahesh had flunked in Algebra. Again. He never seemed to pass that rotten subject in spite of being coached in it endlessly.
He kicked another stone, this time hitting it and hurting the toe of his open toe sandals. “Shit” he groaned.
He bent down to inspect his bleeding toe. It just wasn’t his day. He wished he could run away and go to stay with his Uncle in Pune. He dreamed of being a mechanic, the best in the world and his Uncle owned a garage. What use was Algebra to him.
“Wait” he ordered his sister and removed his handkerchief from his pocket. He inspected the grimy hanky doubtfully, shrugged and used it to clean his bleeding toe. ‘Can’t even kick a stone properly’ he thought hopelessly. Sudden tears pricked his eyes. He rubbed them away fiercely.
“I am useless” he murmured dejectedly.
“No, you are not” said his sister, swinging from his arm. “You are my big brother”.
He looked to check the traffic signal and saw an old couple standing at the crossing. The old lady seemed to be too tired or something. She clung desperately to the old man, who propped her up as best as he could. Something about the couple, touched his heart and he walked up to them. His sister trailed behind obligingly.
“Is anything the matter, Uncle?” he asked the old man.
The old man looked at him with tired, rheumy eyes. “My wife is not well. We have just been to the doctor” he waved vaguely behind him. “We are standing here since the past fifteen minutes waiting for an auto rickshaw.”
“Oh” Mahesh said, comprehension dawning. He thought he could be like a boy in the stories, who were only ever asked to help old people cross roads safely, not help them catch auto rickshaws. The road they were on in was notorious for never having any empty autos.
“Why don’t you call for a cab?” he asked brightly.
“We would rather catch an auto” the old man replied a little huffily.
‘What is his problem?’ Mahesh thought resentfully and made to be on his way home. He had to go home after all, his mother would worry if they reached too late. And look at his toe. Wasn’t it throbbing painfully?
“You won’t be able to catch an auto on this road” he told the old man, wanting to do his duty thoroughly. “Maybe if you walk two blocks you will find one.”
He took his sister hand and was about to walk away when the old lady said, “Beta, can you help us catch an auto? We really cannot walk any further.”
‘What is that to me?’ Mahesh thought in exasperation. He was about to decline politely when he noticed sweat gathering on the old man’s brow. The old lady’s face was a sickly pale colour. ‘How did it get that colour’ he wondered idly. ‘It is because they are old and sick and tired’ informed his brain. Mahesh was not a bad boy, he was just having a very bad day. But his goodness won out and he said roughly, “All right. But you will have to take care of my sister. I will have to walk far to catch an auto. Wait under that tree over there” he pointed behind him.
“Thank you beta” the old lady said softly.
“The address is Sadar Street” added the old man.
Mahesh sighed and began hunting for autos. In five minutes, hurling abuses, he had walked to the next street. Still no luck. He walked on and on and finally found an auto. He whooped in joy and got in the auto rickshaw, idly glancing at his wristwatch. ‘Was it late? They were going to get very late reaching home. And then he will get scolded for the Algebra and for getting late and for not taking proper care of his sister’. The familiar dejection rolled over him once again. He tapped his foot impatiently, cursing his good nature. ‘Why did he have to offer to help the old couple catch a cab? Why?’
“Stop near that tree” he ordered the auto rickshaw driver, spotting his sister and the old couple. His sister was chatting with the old couple and the old man was smiling. Mahesh sighed again and stepped down from the auto.
“Here” was all he could say.
The old couple moved energetically towards the auto.
“Thank you beta” the old lady said again, smiling.
Mahesh nodded, turned and took his sister’s hand. A gnarled hand touched his hair. “May God bless you” murmured the old man.
Mahesh looked at the old man to find him beaming, at him.
Unthinkingly he grinned back and waved as the old man got in after his wife. His eyes sparkled and he stood up straight.
‘Life is good’ he thought as he raced his sister home. var e=argument